Using Visuals to Improve Communications

August 7, 2020

Communication is everything right now. Over the last few months many of us have had to embrace different ways to communicate for work, not to mention in our personal lives.

As a group of consultants who work with clients across the country, we were used to traveling to see our clients and working or meeting with them face-to-face a lot of the time.

Work time in the office was often spent collaborating with one another to ensure we produced the best products possible for our clients’ needs. It was easy (and quick) to walk down the hall and get someone’s input or advice when we needed it.

It is more challenging to get that same quick assurance or confirmation now. Putting those requests into written words leaves open the chance of misinterpretation on both sides. The person making the request may be sure they were clear in what they were asking for . . . right up until they see the response they get. Then it becomes more back and forth (and more time) to try to clear up any confusion or questions. No one’s fault, it is just more difficult when communicating in less than ideal conditions.

Adding visuals to your communication makes it easier and faster to get your message across. The human brain processes visual images much faster than the written word. Given the choice between reading paragraphs of text and seeing a good visual illustration, most people prefer a good visual every time. It is the difference between reading a lemon meringue pie recipe with no pictures or watching a short YouTube video that shows you the details like how stiff the meringue should be before you add it to the top of the pie and what it should look like when it is done.

Imagine you have been asked to provide feedback on a PowerPoint presentation. What is the best way to do that? You can use the “comment” feature and add your comments to the slide and run the risk that the person on the other side misinterprets what you are saying, and then get into an endless loop of back and forth in an effort to understand and incorporate the feedback. Or you can do a screen shot of the slide and mark up the slide with your suggestions. What may take you 250 words to write out could be illustrated with a quick visual that is a much clearer representation of what you wanted to convey.

Another instance where a visual can be more impactful includes using screen shots to clarify the steps that need to be taken to complete a process like benefits enrollment for a new employee.

Let’s say you are writing the procedural document with step-by-step instructions to show an employee how to sign up for benefits. You can use fewer words and make your instructions much clearer by including screenshots to show them what they will see in front of them as they work their way through the process. The visuals you include will be remembered longer and more clearly than any amount of details that you painstakingly write out. These visual communications can help that new employee to sign up for benefits much more quickly, saving time and effort for everyone.

Email is another communication tool that we all use frequently. Emails are especially valuable now that many of us are working remotely. It is vital that you use them effectively to communicate your information as clearly as possible using as few words as possible. You want to make your point in a way that captures your reader’s attention. Adding screen shots to your email can accomplish this by breaking up large blocks of text and showing your reader something that will get them involved in what you want to say.

Perhaps you are sending someone a report or a proposal that you really want them to read. Write a quick summary and insert a screen shot that will highlight an interesting piece of the report to pull them in and make them want to see more. If all they see when they open your email is a huge block of text, they may just move on to the next email, thinking they will come back to yours when they have more time. If you capture their attention right away, they are much more likely to be engaged and responsive to you.

Prior to March, when we all went into “healthy at home” mode, video conferences were something that we used infrequently. In person was usually our preference, with phone calls as a backup when we could not meet face-to-face. Video conferences have been life savers for us to communicate during these times, with each other and with our clients. This tool is making it possible for us to carry on with our work now and will no doubt make us more efficient in the future. Learning to share documents and understanding how to engage people during a webinar are things that we will continue to use once we are past this pandemic.

Something I really miss, and I think took for granted, was the casual communication and sharing that went on in the office . . . a quick laugh with a co-worker over something unexpected and silly or just sharing a piece of chocolate when you needed it to get over an afternoon slump. Those human interactions are hard to put into a communication, visual or not. It will be wonderful when we can reclaim some of those moments. In the meantime, let’s all do our best to improve our methods of communication and continue to reach out and learn from one another.

Using visuals to improve your communications during this challenging time will continue to pay dividends in the future.

Remember, if you need help with any of your HR needs, Foundations is just a visual communication away! Our consultants have extensive practical experience helping organizations improve their communications, including visual communications. Contact us and let us show you how we can assist.

–Nancy Roy, Consultant

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"Human Resources is the foundation to any company’s success and my team and I build programs to enhance the work environment, promote trust, improve engagement, and strengthen management's relationship with their employees. Our work is done with a thoughtful eye to cost and compliance."

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